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Seasonal Cooking : As French as Apple Flan

September 30, 1993|FAYE LEVY

When apple season arrives, the delightful aroma of cooking apples, made with a little butter, sugar and either lemon, vanilla or cinnamon, wafts from many kitchens in France.

French cooks do not add water, a method that ensures the apple flavor stays intense. In the course of the cooking, the butter is absorbed by the apples and the sugar lightly caramelizes. Some of the apples remain in chunks, while the rest form a creamy-textured puree that holds the pieces together.

In France, some call this mixture apple compote, while others refer to it as apple marmalade. It is actually a thick, chunky version of applesauce. This mixture is said to have originated in Normandy, the French province famous for apples, butter and a powerful apple brandy called Calvados, which some cooks like to slip into their applesauce for extra zest.

In France, the favorite apple for cooking is the sweet Golden Delicious, but McIntosh or tart Pippin and Granny Smith apples also give wonderful results. French cooks occasionally vary the basic recipe with a little white or red wine, which evaporates as the apples cook, so only a delicate wine flavor remains. Raisins or currants might be steeped in rum or brandy, then simmered with the apples.

Chunky applesauce is easier to make than our usual version; you don't need to strain it through a food mill, which is messy to clean. The apples cook quickly because they are cut into thin slices. This useful mixture keeps for several days and can be used in many ways.

Serve this deluxe applesauce as a delicious dessert on its own, either hot or cold. For a festive touch, top it with ice cream, frozen yogurt, sour cream or plain or vanilla yogurt, and perhaps a sprinkling of toasted almonds or walnuts. Another favorite topping is a meringue that is spread over the apples and browned in the oven for a cool-weather treat.

For something a little more elegant, pour a light custard over the mixture and bake it as Norman apple flan. Turn the applesauce into a filling for turnovers and apple charlottes. Or use the applesauce as a tasty filling for blintzes or crepes. Simply roll it up in the crepes, bake until hot and serve. If you buy ready-made crepes, this lovely dessert will be super-quick as well.

This applesauce also makes a change-of-pace accompaniment for pancakes or waffles--for breakfast or brunch.

It also makes a great accompaniment for roast meats and poultry. For serving with a savory dish, prepare it with half the sugar. If you have already made the applesauce sweet, you can add lemon juice and a dash of cloves to make it a delectable, spicy-sweet partner for meat.

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In this easy recipe, you can vary the ingredients as you like. Use more butter--or less--to taste. Start with the smaller amount of sugar and add more if desired, depending on the sweetness of the apples. You can substitute brown sugar for white sugar, or replace half the sugar with honey. Serve the applesauce as a dessert on its own, or top it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, or a dollop of sour cream, whipped cream or yogurt. Or, in keeping with the dessert's Norman roots, serve it with creme fraiche.

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CHUNKY FRENCH-STYLE APPLESAUCE

2 pounds Golden Delicious, Pippin or Granny Smith apples 2 to 4 tablespoons butter 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice Grated zest 1/2 lemon, optional 4 to 6 tablespoons sugar

Peel, halve and core apples. Cut into thin wedges or slices.

Heat butter in large heavy, deep skillet or heat-proof casserole. Add apples and saute over medium-high heat 2 minutes, turning pieces over occasionally until coated with butter. Add lemon juice and zest. Cover tightly and cook over low heat, stirring often, until apples are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir in 4 tablespoons sugar. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until mixture is thick and nearly all liquid evaporates. Taste and add more sugar if desired. Cook briefly to dissolve sugar. Serve warm or cold. Makes 3 cups.

Variations:

Cinnamon Applesauce: Replace lemon juice and zest with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

Vanilla-Scented Applesauce: Replace lemon juice and zest with 1 vanilla bean. Remove vanilla bean before serving. Or flavor applesauce with both lemon and vanilla.

Spirited Applesauce: Add 1 to 2 tablespoons Calvados or brandy to mixture just before removing from heat.

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Serve these blintzes with the traditional accompaniment of sour cream, or substitute nonfat sour cream or yogurt. For a quicker dessert, roll the apple filling inside purchased crepes.

APPLE-FILLED BLINTZES

2/3 cup flour Dash salt 2/3 cup milk 2 eggs 2 cups Chunky French-Style Applesauce 1 tablespoon oil, plus extra for brushing pan 2 to 3 tablespoons butter Powdered sugar, optional Combine flour, salt, milk and eggs in blender container. Mix on high speed about 1 minute or until batter is smooth. Strain batter, if lumpy. Cover and refrigerate about 1 hour.

Prepare Chunky French-Style Applesauce. Set aside.

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